Popular Literature Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Popular Literature

Long neglected as a topic of scholarly interest, popular culture has in recent years attracted the close and sustained attention of critics. Novels and stories of various genres, including detective fiction, mysteries, thrillers, romances, westerns, fantasies, science fiction, and the like—works rapidly consumed by a huge reading public in the United States, Europe, and around the world since the debut of the paperback in the late 1930s—have been increasingly scrutinized by academics using the tools and techniques of literary criticism. As a result, scholars have produced studies on the works of such popular authors as detective novelists Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, citing the merit of their "hard-boiled" writings as literature and as cultural documents. While many critics still denigrate works of this type as simple entertainment, "escapist" fiction, marred by formulaic narratives, superficiality, and sensationalism, some adherents of modem literary theory have challenged the accepted notions of what constitutes serious literature. In addition, there are scholars who have opted to dismantle the barriers between elite and popular culture in order to under-stand both more fully. Thus, new strategies are being formulated to draw all modes of literature, from the canonical works of Shakespeare to something as seemingly ephemeral as advertising copy or paperback fiction, together in the study of cultural history, both in the past and in its most contemporary manifestations.